Title: Two Tone
Artist: Dave Aju & The Sol Percussion Ensemble
Label: Circus Company
Release Date: 28 July 2010
I pulled this one out of the tech-house singles section at Everyday Music in Seattle on Record Store Day last week. Is it Techno? Is it House? Sure, if it makes it easier to understand, go ahead and call it tech-house. But the darkened and percussive neurosis of the A-side, and bubbly sunshine-funk spritz on the B-side belie such crass classification. I don’t blame the record store, there’s only so much they can do given the space they have allotted to electronic singles. It’s Everyday Music in Seattle, frankly there are other markets that need served. If you are to blame anybody, blame Dave Aju for crafting house and techno music that thumps, twitches, and whistles somewhere outside our lexicon of classification.
San Francisco’s Dave Aju is a quintessential figure for the Circus Company label, and the two track Two Tone fulfills their artistic standards. In a twist of irony Dave Aju assembled a percussion ensemble for this project, and proceeded to use a single percussion instrument for each track. A circus is and always wants to be nonsensical. It exists within the realm of the absurd, the shocking, and the extravagant. At the heart of a circus is a pursuit of mind-bending playfulness; an attempt to reimagine the drab conventions of reality and offer a fantastical escape within the circumference of their tent. So it goes with the Paris based Circus Company, as they have assembled a roster of artists that flit in between genres while they tickle the full range of your emotions with funky salutes to the cultures of the world and immersive detours into unpredictable adventures in sound design.
The A-side of Two Tone, a track called Flexa, espouses a sort of darkness in the sonic space it creates. A frantically ringing percussion glides atop the bass line that supports it like the lungs of a marathoner, while reverberating bell tones evoke the neurosis of impending darkness. It may not be fright or anything particularly intense, but there is always something jarring about losing the daylight. You witness the disappearance of a world that can be seen and known immediately, and feels the emergence of a masked world, where the unknown sidles right up next to you and wraps its arm around your shoulders second date style. While Aju recognizes the fear of the unkown, he also insists on its potential for play. A cut-up vocal sample that amounts to little more than rhythmic babble, interplays with the ringing highs of the percussion and inserts the irresistible gravity of fun into the track. The indiscernible words create a lighthearted, if still hidden, presence within the otherwise anxious soundscape. This element beckons the listener to embrace darkness as a source of perspective, rather than a lack of it.
This emphasis on darkness on the A-side is brought to life in the context of its B-side companion, Vibra. This track opens with a hard-struck ring that fades in reverberation as a simple yet dedicated cowbell rhythm grows from it. As it slides into a fuzzy shaker and upbeat synth exchange, the track offers up the spritely vibrancy of salsa that makes me want to pour a reasonable amount of alcohol into my head, explore some fancy footwork, and twirl a beautiful lady around as she laughs at me and I at her. Aju and his band of percussionists celebrate the pursuit contentedness by crafting a track that bounces in juxtaposition to the A-side by presenting an emotion that is easily known, and highly desirable. In a montage of memories where I play and laugh with my friends, I would want this to be on the soundtrack. This track is drenched in the “sol” of his percussion ensemble and again uses a babbling vocal sample to round off his smattering of bells and beats with the familiarity of quirky humanism. In this way, Aju ties his two productions together while casting them in emotional relief of each other.
The very titles of these two tracks make a statement about their nature. Dance music track tiltes are a curious phenomenon of the industry. They serve far less use than pop music with vocals and poetic themes. Often dance music titles feel arbitrary, like a mere marketing formality because numbering the tracks is bad SEO. Flexa. Vibra. Neither of these words depicts a particular object or even a concrete idea. They are physical words alluding to something that escapes objective capture in singular thought. After listening to the tracks themselves, the titles seem to be more adverbs than pronouns; the sound of the word itself used to evoke the nature of the track it names. Taken in this context, they are intended to refer to things that balance each other through symbiotic opposition, such as light and dark, love and hate, or life and death. Given the words themselves this is not immediately obvious, but the title of the release Two Tone, certainly suggests this dualistic viewpoint. Two tones: two opposite sides of the same record. Given what we learned by listening, that of darkness and lightness and the babbling unifier of humanism, it seems that “Flexa” and “Vibra” were coined to depict dualism.
By taking a closer look at the relationship between title and track it becomes apparent that the light and dark, or the emotional states of neurotic and content, are only part of the dualistic statement. The word “flexa” implies an action, particularly as it is understood through Aju’s suggestion that darkness and neurosis be engaged and discovered rather than accepted or feared. “Vibra” on the other hand suggests a passivity, a state of acceptance and the recognition that action is not required, and depicts this with its easily accessible emotional content. For all I know Dave Aju might be just crafting funky music with some friends and I would like to thank him for that. Yet, for what it’s worth, a meditation on the balance of existential action and passivity is not at all a bad idea. That, however, is just beyond the scope of Waxed.